The Blitz, complete high school coverage
OAKWOOD — West Hall quarterback Zach English noted all that new coach Tony Lotti has done for the program since being hired in the offseason.
“He’s brought so much of a boost to us that we haven’t had,” the junior said.
English was more than happy to help give Lotti his first Gatorade bath after the Spartans’ 27-11 win over Lumpkin County on Friday.
It was West Hall’s first win of the season, and the first win of Lotti’s head coaching career.
“I don’t even know how to describe it,” Lotti said before being mobbed by friends and family as the fans streamed down from the stands. “Hopefully there’s more of these. That’s the plan.”
English did more than just deliver the Gatorade bath, throwing for 159 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on 7-of-15 passing to rally West Hall from an 11-7 halftime deficit.
The junior recovered from a tough opening half where he went just 2-for-9, and finished the game 5-of-6 with a pair of scores. Freshman Kwon Williams led the Spartans (1-2, 0-0 7-AAA) on the receiving end with two catches for 67 yards and a score, and Keith McCroan and Hunter Atkinson each caught a touchdown pass.
Lotti said he had a halftime chat with his quarterback, who was starting only his third high school game at the position. English came out in the second half ready.
“I relaxed more and just took a deep breath,” he said. “The line also blocked great, so much of what the quarterback can do comes from how the line does.
“And I give all the glory to God.”
He wasn’t the only West Hall player to turn it up a notch in the second half. Sophomore running back Isiah Rowe, who had five carries for 22 yards in the first half, finished with a team-high 104 yards rushing on 22 carries.
Lumpkin County (0-3, 0-0 8-AAAA) finished with 103 yards rushing as a team on 27 carries, with Gunner Wood compiling 30 yards to lead the way. Quarterback Daniel McCrary finished 10-for-20 for 79 yards and an interception.
Lumpkin County, which defeated West Hall 31-21 in the final game of the 2011 season in Oakwood, last started a season 0-3 in 2006.
“We had some spurts of intensity, but we couldn’t sustain it enough,” Lumpkin County coach Tommy Jones said.
“Hats off to Coach Lotti and their staff, it’s a big win for their program.”
West Hall struck first in a defense-heavy first half, taking advantage of great field position set up by Spartans punter Connor Kirkland’s 40-yard punt to the 4-yard line the series prior, and the defense holding Lumpkin County to a three-and-out.
The Spartans drove 31 yards in four plays, with English hitting McCroan on fourth-and-8 for a 29-yard touchdown with 2:36 left in the first quarter. McCroan snared the ball in the end zone over the head of the cornerback.
Lumpkin County took advantage of even better field position two possessions later after linebacker Devonte Young recovered a fumbled West Hall pitch just 11 yards from the end zone. West Hall’s defense held firm, but senior kicker Chase Slocumb drilled a 27-yard field goal to put Lumpkin County on the board, down four at 7-3 with 9:42 left in the half.
Both defenses held firm through most of the second quarter, but the Indians finally put together a drive with 3:21 left in the half. Lumpkin scored nine plays later on a 2-yard touchdown run by Timmy Summersett.
The Indians led 11-7 just 25 seconds before the half after McCrary’s two-point conversion run on a fake field goal.
The biggest play of the drive came one play before the touchdown run, when Mitchell Stephens ran 18 yards on a reverse to set the Indians up with a first-and-10 at the 2.
West Hall responded quickly in the second half, with English finding Williams on a short pass on third-and-9, which Williams turned into a 49-yard touchdown reception and a 13-11 Spartans lead after a missed extra point.
Late in the third quarter English recorded his third touchdown pass with a 3-yard strike to Atkinson which put West Hall ahead 20-11.
After an interception by West Hall safety Wyatt Taylor set up the Spartans at the Lumpkin County 41, running back Antonio Pittman finished a seven-play drive with a 3-yard touchdown run to put the hosts ahead 27-11, which would hold up to the end.
Lotti isn’t ready to slow down after his first win.
“The kids are not going to quit anymore,” he said. “And I’m still committed to building a program here, not just a team.
“We will not lower the bar at West Hall anymore.”
Both teams enter their respective region schedules next week. West Hall will play Banks County next Friday in Homer, and Lumpkin County travels to Monroe to play Monroe Area.